Patriot Hellfire M.2 NVMe SSD Review

Patriot began teasing us with its Hellfire NVMe SSDs in January. At each major trade show, we saw the Hellfire evolve into the retail product that is now coming to market. The first Hellfire SSDs to achieve liftoff are the M.2 products in 240GB and 480GB capacities, and add-in card (AIC) models will follow. The Hellfire promises a blistering 3 / 2.2 GB/s of sequential read/write throughput and boasts equally impressive random performance. We test the Phison PS5007-E7 NVMe powered SSD to see how it compares with other 512GB SSDs. 

The Phison PS5007-E7 controller originally came to life with release candidate firmware on the Zotac Sonix 480GB add-in-card earlier this summer. In the interim, Phison made several changes to the firmware, and Patriot Memory is the first company to bring an E7 to market with mass production firmware.

Two Hellfire products will make their way to market in the coming months. The M.2 2280 unit we have in hand leads the way, and later this year Patriot will release the AIC form factor that is nearing completion. We saw the final rendering of the Hellfire AIC at the Flash Memory Summit and walked away impressed. It is our understanding that Patriot is just waiting for the fashionable heat sinks to become available.

The Hellfire M.2 2280 is the first retail release with the Phison PS5007-E7 in the M.2 form factor. The small form factor poses significant thermal dissipation problems for SSD manufacturers. Add-in cards are larger than M.2’s, and thus have more area for thermal dissipation. The larger form factor also has the advantage of more PCB real estate, so there is ample room for a heat sink. In contrast, the smaller M.2 form factor doesn't have much room for a heat sink. Thermal throttling is one of the most pressing issues we've encountered with M.2 SSDs. Some products throttle performance (to stay within a safe temperature range) more than others, and even the same product may perform differently if you use it in a desktop with active cooling or a notebook with little airflow.

Technical Specifications

As mentioned, the Patriot Memory Hellfire M.2 utilizes an 8-channel Phison PS5007-E7 flash processor. Patriot married the controller to Toshiba planar 15nm MLC NAND flash and a low-power DDR3 DRAM buffer. Patriot released 240GB and 480GB Hellfire SSDs at launch, but at the time of writing, Newegg and Amazon didn't have the drive in stock. We expect retail availability by the time you read this.

At Computex 2016 this past June, Patriot displayed a 1TB Hellfire M.2 SSD that utilized a 22110 form factor, but the drive has yet to come to market. 22110 could work in a notebook, but we have not encountered that much space for an M.2 in a notebook yet. Desktop motherboards with M.2 slots sandwiched between PCI Express slots support the extended form factor.

Patriot used off-the-shelf test tools (we call these one-click benchmarks) like ATTO and Crystal Disk Mark to show performance. Most of these tools do not run with multiple workers, so the results are very close to our own testing. The Hellfire M.2 SSDs deliver up to 3,000 MB/s sequential read and 2,200 MB/s of sequential write speed. Random performance reaches up to 130,000 IOPS read and up to 210,000 IOPS write. The 240GB Hellfire delivers slightly higher random read performance and the 480GB model provides slightly better random write performance.

Phison has yet to release an NVMe driver for any of the E7-based products. We've spoken with Phison previously about the driver situation, and the company seems to feel the Microsoft driver is adequate. Both Intel and Samsung have released product-specific NVMe drivers to provide increased performance with their SSDs. Most performance gains come in the form of decreased read and write latency.

Features

Controller Highlights

  • Compatible with PCI Express Rev. 3.0
  • NVMe 1.2 Specification
  • Backward Compatible with PCIe 1 and 2
  • Support for 2Gb and 4Gb DDR3 DRAM
  • 120bit/2KB ECC BCH
  • Program RAM
  • SmartECC Technology
  • SmartFlush Technology
  • GuaranteedFlush Technology
  • Static and Dynamic Wear-Leveling
  • L1.2 Power Saving Mode
  • End-to-End Data Path Protection

Pricing, Warranty And Accessories

The Hellfire M.2 SSDs were not available at online retailers at the time of writing. Patriot Memory's website lists the MSRP for the 240GB model at $169.99 and the 480GB model at $319.99. SSDs rarely sell at MSRP for more than a month. The Zotac Sonix sold at the MSRP ($369.99) for a few weeks but now sells for $279.99 at Newegg.

The Hellfire M.2 series carries a 3-year warranty that Patriot limits by the total bytes written (TBW) to the drive (commonly measured in terabytes). The 240GB allows for 115 TBW, and the 480GB doubles that to 230 TBW.

The drive ships in a blister pack that is void of any accessories. We scouted Patriot's website to find links to software downloads, for instance, management software or Acronis TrueImage HD but didn't find any.

A Closer Look

The Hellfire M.2 joins the Intel 600p as a new wave of low-cost NVMe SSDs make their way to market. Until now, any SSD using the NVMe protocol was very expensive. The Patriot Hellfire is more expensive than SATA-based AHCI SSDs are, but the price of NVMe SSDs have decreased greatly. To keep costs low, Patriot used a blister package to minimize manufacturing costs.

The drive is fairly basic. The most exciting aspect is the flip-chip controller design that we rarely see. SandForce would have released a similar flip-chip controller, but the product ran into trouble as the company ping-ponged through acquisitions before winding up as a new division at Seagate.

One aspect that may seem trivial is the Hellfire's dual-sided design. The 480GB model sports components on both sides of the printed circuit board but some notebooks don't allow for the extra girth.

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